Written by Rika Limuria, Indonesia
In January 2018, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). I had been suffering from a recurring upset stomach for five months and finally underwent a colonoscopy for a thorough check. The doctor told me that there was no cure for Crohn’s. There are conditions when the disease is in remission and the patient will feel at ease; however, the patient needs to continuously take precautions for when the disease flares up.
I had to take corticosteroid pills every day and get myself checked every month. Thankfully, my condition did improve after months of treatment, and six months later, the doctor told me that my condition was under control, and I could stop taking the medicine.
Even so, knowing that I had to live with this disease for the rest of my life became a physical and emotional burden. I could not enjoy the food and drinks that I liked. I became anxious every time I had to spend long hours travelling with limited access to the restroom. I could not enjoy life the way I used to.
Moving to a new country
In October 2020, I relocated from Indonesia to Taiwan to pursue advanced studies. Due to the pandemic measures, I had to undergo a fourteen-day quarantine in a hotel. I was worried then that my IBD would flare up during those days, but thankfully that did not happen.
My first few months in Taiwan went smoothly, though I was very cautious with the food I ate, as maintaining remission was a top priority for me. However, after 2.5 years of remission, my stomach issue recurred in January 2021.
I went to a gastroenterologist, hoping to receive IBD-specific medication to reduce my flare-up. Since I did not have my medical records with me, the doctor wanted me to undergo several examinations. To my surprise, the doctor could not find any evidence of IBD. He then prescribed some medication to reduce my symptoms, which helped for a few weeks.
When things got worse again, I went back and this time, the doctor asked me to undergo an MRI screening. Once again, the MRI result showed no evidence of IBD. I was then sent back home with my previous prescription. It made me very upset that I had to suffer such a condition without knowing what was causing it and how it could be treated.
To top it off, the Delta variant struck my home country during the third quarter of 2021, and I became overwhelmed with all the sad news I received through social media as the virus had finally infiltrated my inner circle. Eventually, what I feared the most happened—I lost someone I loved the most, my grandmother.
As I wept over the news, my stomach started getting worse. The medicine I got could not relieve my symptoms anymore. I went to the doctor again, and after prescribing a similar medicine, he asked me to schedule a colonoscopy once my condition improved and the number of Covid cases lowered. It was at this point that I realised that my condition seemed to worsen whenever I felt troubled.
Recognising how the mind affects the body
I decided to seek help. I talked to my family members and close friends and told them that I felt troubled and will need to talk to a professional counsellor. With the help of a friend, I was able to make an appointment at a Christian counselling center. I also talked to my churchmate and a church minister. Amidst the weariness, I received encouragement and prayers from my family members, friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ.
As difficult as things were, the pandemic and my physical challenges gave me time to slow down and spend more time reflecting on life. I used to fill my schedule with lots of tasks and activities, thinking that I had to do so to serve others with the talents that God gave me. But after reflecting on my personal experiences, I realised that before serving others, I have to first gain the strength I need by spending time with Him. Jesus Himself had set a good example for us: “Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35).
Following the advice given by my professional counsellor, I began to practice a new habit by writing a daily gratitude journal. With this new habit, I am learning to cherish anything that God has allowed to happen in my life and to enjoy the season I am in. Keeping the gratitude journal has also allowed me to regain my old habit of writing a diary. I remembered how I love to express my thoughts and feelings in writing—my ups and downs, my anxieties, and my prayers to the Lord.
As I regained my inner strength, my physical condition improved. I eventually underwent a colonoscopy and endoscopy, and the result was amazing; there wasn’t any inflammation in my bowel. The doctor told me that I could stop taking the medications. Since then, I haven’t taken any pills, and my condition has steadily improved.
For me, this proverb has proven true indeed: “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). My physical condition is in a way a mirror of my emotional condition. And so, every time I have an upset stomach, it is a reminder for me to look into my heart as well, to acknowledge my anxiety and bring my fears to the Lord. As the Psalmist says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18), and indeed, He has saved me again and again.
And finally, I am encouraged to hold on to this promise: “That the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory in Christ, after we have suffered a little while, will Himself restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast” (I Peter 5:10).